Australia’s Anglican bishops, meeting in Melbourne last month, have urged the Federal Government to persist with reforms to help problem gamblers and their families.
The bishops, who met at St Peter’s Eastern Hill, affirmed their support for the introduction of $1 maximum bets to limit losses to about $120 an hour per person, about 10% of the losses possible on the existing high-impact machines; setting limits on Automatic Telling Machine withdrawals in gambling venues; greater restrictions on online gambling; and restrictions on public advertising of betting, at sports venues, on television and in other places where young people could be socialised into a gambling culture.
The Primate, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall of Brisbane, said in a statement on behalf of the bishops that the evidence from the Productivity Commission Report on Gambling in June 2010 was clear that poker machine problem gamblers accounted for about 40% of total poker machine spending.
“The bishops recognised that problems of addiction in Australia are much wider than the abuse of poker machines, but we were also confronted by the fact that around 95,000 people are addicted to the machines and each lose, on average, around $21,000 per year,” Dr Aspinall said. “For this reason, there was strong support for current proposals for a $1 limit on poker machine bids.
“Despite a cashed up campaign against reform, as Church leaders, we know the costs of problem gambling for the individuals and their families: suicide, depression, marriage breakdowns, job losses, bankruptcy and crime. Through our parishes and Anglicare programs we continue to provide assistance to problem gamblers and their families, seeking also to educate against addiction. Our work indicates that often people drift into addiction out of their loneliness and social isolation.”
Archbishop Aspinall said that following the Productivity Commission Report on Gambling and recent community debate, Australians now needed outcomes that only Parliament could deliver.
“We urge the Federal Government to introduce poker-machine reform in the coming sessions of Parliament,” he said. “We add our voice to those of other community groups and the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce, in urging these reforms.”
Archbishop Philip Freier said the meeting resolved that the protocols that operate between the bishops be made public through the General Synod website.
Dr Freier said that while these did not have a legal or canonical authority, they were part of the fabric that assisted the unity of the points of agreement amongst the bishops. This process was started during the Primacy of Archbishop Peter Carnley of Perth and had served the Church well.
“Melbourne enjoyed hosting the National Bishops’ Meeting, where friendship and collegiality were renewed; our communion in Christ was strengthened through Bible studies and worship; and we were stimulated by visiting speakers and business matters,” Archbishop Freier said.
The Social Responsibilities Committee of the Diocese of Melbourne presented a report to the bishops on violence against women, which said that much of the hope for a future in which no woman lived in fear lay with faith communities, “who are uniquely placed to prevent violence against women before it occurs”.
“Anglican communities can reach large numbers of culturally and linguistically diverse people that are under-served by other groups with theological teaching and practices that promote healthy relationships,” the report said.
“As uncomfortable as it may be, we all need to talk with our congregations about respectful relationships – and most importantly lead by example. Anglican clergy can play an active role in reducing violence against women by promoting healthy relationships through education, discussion and positive role-modelling. Awareness brings change, and we all need to do our bit.”
The Lord Mayor, Cr Robert Doyle, hosted a reception for the bishops at Melbourne Town Hall on 13 March.
The Revd Jean Penman, widow of Archbishop David Penman of Melbourne (1984-89), served as Chaplain to the bishops’ spouses conference, hosted by Mrs Joy Freier.